We’re sitting cross-legged and tightly-packed on a straw mat inside a tiny house in this remote village of Flores, Indonesia. Our team of 12 has been warmly welcomed by Pak Bomas, the kind-hearted village chief.
Bare bones infrastructure. No running water. But what these people lack in public utilities they make up for in overflowing hospitality. We’ve been offered local snacks, traditional drinks and we got a handshake from a group of elderly, hunched-over village ladies who are all wearing their traditional Flores fabrics. One teammate later said it felt like in that moment we were being received by royalty. Their wide smiles were dripping with the red dye of the beetle nut, a bark mixed with powder that they chew in their mouths as a mild drug.
We’ve exchanged our gifts, they have given theirs, and now we are in the back-and-forth phase of polite chit-chat and learning of each others’ cultures. They tell us the history of their village, and we tell them we have come from a long way because we love Jesus and He loves them. We play a worship song for them and they reciprocate with a traditional one. We offer to pray for them and they readily accept.
Toward the end, we can tell by some sort of commotion in the back of the house that they are getting ready to do something big or ceremonious.
Out comes Pak Bomas from the back, with a live chicken in his hand. He pets its head and explains to us that the white chicken represents purity, showing that their hearts are pure in extending friendship to us.
He then looks around for someone on our team to give it to, and his eyes settle on Duane who is the oldest member of our team (maybe it’s the grey beard…mine is greying, too, but Duane’s is farther along). As I said before, Duane is the only vegan on the team, and we kidded him later that the chicken seemed relieved to be under his care.
Such a surreal moment, receiving this nervous and quietly clucking chicken. It made me laugh inside, feeling like I was in some sort of wacky Jim Carrey movie, and I joke-translated to the side, “Hey guys, the good news is they are offering us this live chicken as a sign of their pure heart in receiving us. The bad news is one of us has to stay behind in order to reciprocate.”
And you may be thinking now what I was thinking then…what does one do with a live chicken?
After more chatting, taking photos and saying our goodbyes, it was time to climb into our van and head back down the mountain for a one hour-ride toward the city where our hotel was located. They offered to tie up the chicken’s legs and put it upside down into the back of our van, but Duane says no need, he will hold it in the van.
We got back to our hotel and the staff received our live offering with joy. We weren’t sure what they were going to do with it (which form of protein), and we didn’t ask too many questions. They assured us they would take good care of her.
The whole episode, aside from being surreal, struck me with how great Indonesians are at hospitality. These village people dropped everything they were doing to honor us as guests, and gave us a live chicken to boot! That little gift of hospitality cost them something…these people were very poor from what we could see, and that chicken was a real part of their livelihoods. Yet they willingly and cheerfully gave it to us.
Hospitality does cost us something, and I think that’s why our Western culture isn’t as good at it as Eastern ones. “Tamu adalah raja,” they say in Indonesia, “The guest is king.” Living there for a long time, I remember so many times being frustrated when someone came to our front gate, unannounced, and feeling the culture dictate to drop everything I was doing and receive this person into our home, offer refreshments, and chat for a while—the whole while grumbling internally about the other things I was planning on doing in that time slot. It was a slow, painful death for my Type A personality.
But a good death. “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13:2). God certainly values hospitality, actually factoring angels into the equation of a math that sometimes doesn’t make sense to us.
When was the last time you offered the white welcome chicken of purity to your guests? (Okay, that is really hard to say with a straight face). Let me rephrase:
When is the last time hospitality cost you something?
I’m not sure the answer for me either, but I imagine that angels take good care of chickens.